WASHINGTON — The Lightning have been through their fair share of distracting situations this year between injuries and trade requests involving star players.
But the latest incident involving the arrest of LW Ryan Malone early Saturday morning on charges involving DUI and possession of 1.3 grams of cocaine is a different situation because of the circumstances involved. Head coach Jon Cooper, however, said it won’t be any sort of a distraction as Tampa Bay prepares for the playoffs.
“I don’t know that will cause any sort of a distraction,’’ Cooper said. “Hockey wise, we’ve had way more distractions worse than this one. This is more of a life issue with a friend of ours. Physically we know that he’s doing OK and hopefully the worst is over and this is moving onward and upward. But as for the hockey, this won’t be a distraction at all.’’
Cooper said the focus for the team in regards to Malone is his personal well-being and his health.
“We’ve had so many different (situations) and it’s pretty remarkable that all this has been fit into one 82-game season, to be honest, but no matter what happens, regardless with what happens with anything, you are dealt with as a human being first and a hockey player second,’’ Cooper said. “You want to look after your players in their life first. I’ve spoken to Ryan, and there is a whole process to go through that is out of our hands, but inside he is feeling OK.
“And no matter how long this process takes, Ryan is probably a little embarrassed with what has gone on in making a poor decision getting behind the wheel when he had alcohol in his system. But for me, I’ve watched all the good decisions Ryan Malone has made in his life and how charitable he’s been and the staple he has been in our community since he’s been here and I hope this instance does not take away from that. He’s been a class act for us on and off the ice. Nobody is perfect, we all make marginal decisions in our life, but this will be a learning experience for him and we are really looking forward to getting him back at some point.’’
C Valtteri Filppula and LW Ondrej Palat sat out the season finale with injuries, with each considered day-to-day.
Filppula appeared to be injured at the tail end of Thursday’s game against Philadelphia and sat out Friday’s home finale against Columbus. Palat appeared to take a blow to the head when hit by Columbus D Jack Johnson early in the third period against the Blue Jackets.
Cooper did not indicate whether either will be ready to start Game 1 against Montreal on Wednesday.
D Sami Salo, who missed the previous two games with an upper body injury, and D Victor Hedman, who left Friday’s game three shifts into the first period, were in the line.
G Ben Bishop remains an unknown for the start of the series against Montreal. Cooper stated previous Bishop’s availability would be know when the team returns to practice on Tuesday.
Getting his chance
C Cody Kunyk became the third Lightning rookie to make his NHL debut in the past two games when he suited up for Sunday’s season finale against Washington.
Kunyk was signed as a free agent out of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks on March 20 and has been practicing with the team since March 25. The 23-year-old, who was recently named a second team Western All-Star after leading the WCHA in scoring, started on a line with J.T. Brown and Nikita Kucherov.
“He hasn’t played any competitive hockey in a good month, but he works hard and that’s what I love about these guys,’’ Cooper said. “There is no “why me, why am I not doing this or why am I not in’ none of that than, they just say call me when you need me and I’m going to work my tail off and to be honest, that’s probably what got him in here at the end. I have to reward a guy that has come in here and done everything we asked and not said a word. We’ll see what we have (with Kunyk) and he’s earned his right to do this.’’